Greville St Bookstore

the “really really great books I read last year” list
January 6, 2010, 5:58 am
Filed under: Literature

… and the only reason they’re not on the Top 10 List is… because basically they’re pretty hard to get or were published originally some years ago, but no matter, they are all true remarkable works that sent me to many spectacularly exotic places and states of mind…

by Andrei Makine
US hardback

Oh my god, Makine left me staggering in awe of his perception and facility for evoking not only a place of extremes, but also that particular moment of youth on the cusp of adulthood, when many things are still possible. Once Upon the River Love follows the imaginary and other adventures of three friends from Siberia, who dream of love, adventure, and different world after seeing a film starring the French matinee idol, Jean-Paul Belmondo. My synchronous moment came during last year’s Melbourne International Film Festival watching Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le fou, starring none other than Jean-Paul Belmondo, and accepting that, though long past any notion of ‘cusp’, I too could catch a whiff of dreaming…

by J.M.G. Le Clezio
pb $24.95

One of numerous titles by the 2008 Nobel Winner for Literature, now available locally. My choice of Terra Amata was entirely arbitrary but not in the least disappointing. Le Clezio reminded me of the great European literature I used to read, from the Surrealists to the Existentialists to exponents of the Nouveau Roman. Terra Amata make me both think and weep, a brilliant combo! Currently I’m reading his most recent novel, Desert, which looks like it will be available here in May. Can I say “oh my god” again? Set in Morocco and the North African desert, it is as slow, repetitive and unrelenting as the sand, the sun, the wind — utterly mesmerising!

by Roberto Bolano
US hardback

I’m getting all my non-Anglos out of the way first because these works in translation were my strongest revelation of 2009. I had been concentrating so long on Anglo writing I’d forgotten how dazzling it could be to read from other cultures. Of Roberto Bolano, I’ve read The Savage Detectives which I regard as a work of genius, combining the classic hero’s journey/road trip with the literary roman à clef with a great raucous call to revolution. I’ve read Amulet, which tells the story of a minor character from The Savage Detectives. I thought at first it was a minor work, until I got to the end and understood the meaning of “amulet”. That was the cue for the waterworks! I intend to read his magnum opus, 2666, but have not yet been able to commit to 898 pages. And I did read The Skating Rink, a much smaller (in length) work, both thriller and love story, and peopled by Bolano’s usual cast of crazies, depressives and savants. I would read anything by Bolano!!

by Shirley Hazzard
pb $22.99

Sadly late (or better late than never) in concurring with everyone else’s conclusion that this woman is a stylistic genius. I mentioned in an earlier post how great I thought this contemporary classic was, and at least it is still in print!

by Pete Dexter
US pb $32.00

A total must for any fans of the TV series Deadwood by David Milch. Though not specifically based on Pete Dexter’s version, Milch must definitely have been aware of it. Dexter’s is equally well researched and his language is definitely just as ‘fruity’!! I loved it, being a bit of a western fan and enjoying another sojourn to the Dakota Territories with Wild Bill and Charlie Utter, whose friendship, amongst other things, is so movingly related.

by A.M. Homes
pb $23.95 (available but has to be ordered in)

So great! This lady is the genius of contemporary angst, kind of like a literary Seinfeld Show, if you know what I mean. What I wrote in my diary at the time: “Total breakdown material! How I feel and behave A LOT; sick of being adult and responsible. Homes’ ‘adult’ characters acting out of childish ‘want’. She has such awesome insight into human relations.” And if you can’t get hold of Music for Torching, there’s always her brilliant depiction of man-on-edge-of-breakdown in This Book Will Save Your Life.